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Another example is the quantum physicist, Niels Bohr (another lapsed Jew). A friend once visited Bohr and saw over his front door a horseshoe. He said to him, “Niels, you can’t believe in that, can you?” And Bohr smiled and said, “No, of course I don’t believe in it. But the thing is, it works whether you believe in it or not.” Essentially, that is what Robert Putnam said about religion: it works whether you believe in it or not, just so long as you go. In other words, religion is the great source of community in the contemporary world. If there’s one person who would not have been surprised by that, it is one of the greatest writers ever on America, Alexis de Tocqueville. In 1832 when he published the first part of Democracy in America, he said that religion has huge influence in America because it supports altruism, whether in families or communities or voluntary associations of charities. He gave it a lovely phrase: he called this  “the art of association”, of coming together. He gave the importance of that an even lovelier name. He said the art of association is our “apprenticeship in liberty”.

It is that ability to come together as communities to help one another that is our apprenticeship in liberty. Today, this kind of community exists mainly in religion. Let me give you a dramatic example of this. In 2011, a British medical charity did a survey in Britain. It discovered that the average Brit between 18 and 30 has 237 Facebook friends. When asked how many of those you could rely on in an emergency, the average answer was “two”. A quarter replied one, and an eighth replied none. Now, believe you me, Facebook has no bigger fan than me. I think it’s fantastic and wonderful and does bring people together. But there is a difference between a Facebook friend and a real friend that you meet face-to-face. The funny thing is that just when that report came out, it made me very mindful of something that happened in our local synagogue.

Three years earlier, in 2008, a young couple with three young children had joined our synagogue in London. They’d left New York because the young man had just been made head of Lehman Brothers Europe. Within two or three weeks of his arrival, there was no more Lehman Brothers. Three years later, he got up in the synagogue and made an impromptu speech saying, “My wife and I and our children are going back home after these three years in Britain. I want you to know that without this synagogue and the friends we made here, we could not have survived these three years. We’d uprooted ourselves completely. I had no job, no friends, no anything, and everyone in this synagogue reached out to help.” You must know stories like that from your local church or your local house of worship. Community is alive and well today, but in religious environments, and half of America today doesn’t have those supportive environments.

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Dissapointed
September 12th, 2017
5:09 AM
What starts as an interesting article descends into the classic 'it doesn't matter if you believe it or not, but it's better to believe' acts of proselytization.

Jose Carp
September 9th, 2017
9:09 AM
Rav Sir Jonathan Sachs who I admire immensely, omits the fact that the world population has quadrupled in the last 40 years. This has certainly contributed to more ignorance and the dispersion of religions into various sects (some more redical than others).

J Dale Debber
September 8th, 2017
2:09 PM
Rabbi Sacks has put words and meaning to the identification of precisely what is happening In the 21st century world. Moreover he outlines the choice of paths that both societies and individuals have.

North West Johnny
September 1st, 2017
1:09 PM
Rabbi Jonathan Sachs is seriously one of the greatest thinkers of our time. He needs to come home to the UK and speak from every corner of our island to give the silent majority a voice and some direction. The decades to come are going to be dark if we do not break the growing threats to our society.

ron hurtAnonymous
September 1st, 2017
4:09 AM
Quite brilliant analysis. Reminds me of the late Francis Schseffer

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